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To Be or Not To Be: A Transexual Catholic Speaks

by Chris Paige


This two page profile "To Be or Not To Be: A Transexual Catholic Speaks" by Hilary Howes in Conscience magazine (a publication of Catholics for Choice) is an excellent outline of Roman Catholic doctrine as it currently stands.

Howes testifies to her own experience and viewpoint right in her opening sentence,

Blessed with male genitalia and a female brain I struggled to relate to a society that saw me as male until age 40 when I transitioned to live as a woman.

Yet the article details a variety of challenges with the policies of the institutional Church,

In the Catholic church, as a transsexual woman,I don’t exist officially. Officially the Catholic church does not have a policy on the range of gender expression and considering its teachings on gay men, lesbian women, divorced women, women priests and women who abort I should count myself as lucky. But the popular assumption that I will be treated poorly by the institutional church hierarchy is born out in news reports of a secret document to bishops, and the pope’s own words.

 More details on the secret document are provided by Howes, along with this assessment,

The problem with a secret position on transgender people is that the church hierarchy is empowered to follow the most reactionary course in their words and deeds on the subject.

Howes speaks from experience, articulating a deep understanding of gender transition that is missing from the policy,

Transitioning allows us to share with society the gender personality that we have been from the start. It avoids the false-selves we developed to live as others expected us to based on our external bodies.

Contrast this honesty and authenticity with the results of Church policy,

They also have torn families apart by teaching that transsexualism is a psychic disorder. Parents are counseled to suppress transgender children and to reject transitioning adult children. Transsexuals are forbidden the sacrament of marriage (to anybody), religious life and priesthood.

Ultimately, Howes provides a hopeful viewpoint. She doesn't comment on what might happen in terms of changing policy, but she holds out a vision,

It doesn’t have to be this way. As readers of this magazine would know, our theology calls us to follow our consciences, accept mystery and love one another without exception. Reaching out to my marginalized extreme minority is not only possible but enriches our spiritual life.

And in her final words, Howes articulates the greatest gift of all, that opening ourselves up to the unfamiliar can be meaningful and healing,

I understand that my journey, though personal, touches that which is universal about gender for everyone. Perhaps your notions of father, mother, brother, sister, husband and wife get opened a little by meeting someone who has been all of those at different times in her life. Maybe you can take it from someone who has been there that looking at everything as us and them, black and white, male or female is limiting and dangerous. Ultimately, welcoming the mystery of diversity in God’s plan is the healing for our church for which I most hope.

Read the full Conscience magazine profile: "To Be or Not To Be: A Transexual Catholic Speaks" by Hilary Howes (in PDF form)


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